Sunday, 5 August 2012

Olympics - part 2

Friday 3rd August 2012

Like previously stated in part 1 it was my intention to get tickets for an event at the Olympic Park itself, but following the original ballot and secondary sales I was unable to get anything other than for football. It was always my intention to keep trying as I had an inkling that some of the other national Olympic associations would send back unsold tickets, and also that once the seating plans were finalised the organisers would hopefully have more tickets to go on sale. As luck would have it a few months ago some more tickets went on sale and managed to get some for the Women's Handball Tournament. I had to pay top whack for the tickets which came in @ £50 each, but as this is something that would never be experienced again and certainly not in my home country, two were purchased for myself and my wife Angela. 

To get down to London we decided to go on the train from Leicester as I did not fancy driving, mainly due to working a night shift. To help matters I managed to get my Thursday night shift changed from a 10-6 to an 8-4 one, which meant I would get home around 4.15am on the Friday morning. In the end I got home This allowed me to get some sleep before having to go and get the pre-booked train out of Leicester at 1155. The train tickets to London St. Pancras cost £34 return each, and with a midday departure would allow us plenty of time to get to the Olympic Park in time for our event which was not due to start until 1930. The train arrived in Leicester on time and got us into St. Pancras at the scheduled time of 1315. It was then a case of going to the other side of the station to catch the Javelin service to Stratford International - a six minute journey across London. 

The Olympic Rings @ St. Pancras Station
On arrival we made our way into the Westfield Stratford shopping centre which is adjacent to the Olympic Park, which for this weekend only was only for athletes, officials and people with tickets for any of the events etc etc due to it being the busiest weekend of the games helped by the athletic events starting. After spending around an hour and half in the shopping centre buying a few souvenirs and other odds and sods we made our way into the park. Getting through security was effortless, very efficient and well organised and took no time at all.
myself @ the entrance to the Olympic Park

We in the park you are greeted by the impressive site of the Olympic Stadium in front of you, the Aquatics Centre to the left, the Water Polo Arena to the right plus not forgetting the Orbit. Having spent some time getting our bearings and having a look round we went to the Coca Cola stall and had our photo taken with the Olympic Torch - monies of which go to the companies' respective charities. Then it was about turn and we went in the direction of the Copper Box Arena itself which is located in the middle of the park between the Olympic Stadium and Riverbank Arena. With stomachs rumbling and time getting on we thought it would be a good idea to get something to eat before heading into the Copper Box. Queues for all food outlets were large and prices high. In the end we opted for the fish and chip option - a wait of around thirty minutes saw us fork out £22.60 for two portions and two 500ml bottles of drink, and then it was onto the nearby Copper Box for the main event.

Handball is a sport I know very little about, and only decided to get tickets for this after watching some clips on youtube. Teams consist of teams of seven (six outfield players and a goalkeeper) and matches are contested over two periods of thirty minutes. More details on the sport can be found on the governing body's website, the IHF.

Matches for the handball tournament will take place at two venues; 1) the Copper Box Arena and 2) the Basketball Arena. The Copper Box is a permanent venue that has a capacity of 7,000. After the games it will become a multi-use sports centre for community use and will be operated by Greenwich Leisure Limited. On the other hand the Basketball Arena is a temporary venue and will have a capacity of 12,000. Along with basketball it will also host to semi-finals and final of the handball tournament. 

I was really impressed with the Copper Box (inside and out), and full credit to the designers / architects who came up with it. There is not a bad seat in the house and the atmosphere and acoustics were superb. The seats we had were behind the far goal and about eight rows up. 

Unusually for me I did not check how all four teams were doing in the tournament so far, but going into the games the world rankings of the four nations involved are as follows:

3 - Denmark; 6 - Sweden; 9 - Spain; 11 - Norway 

On this evidence I predictably came to the conclusion that both games would be close encounters, and this proved to be oh so correct though the victories went to the lower (world) ranked nations. 

Game 1
Spain 25-24 Sweden

Spain won this by opening up a two goal lead with about a minute to go, though Sweden did get the last goal of the game. Nely Alberto and Marta Mangue top scored for Spain with six goals each, while Hanna Fogelstrom scored five for Sweden. Spain's victory was in no small park helped by their goalkeeper Silvia Navarro who made fourteen saves during the match.

Game 2
Denmark 22-23 Norway

This all Scandinavian affair saw Norway beat Denmark with a winning goal with just two seconds left. The game was nip and tuck throughout with Ann Norgaard scoring nine goals for the Danes and Heidi Loke top scoring for Norway with six. The winning goal came from Karoline Breivang.

Summing up, my impression of the sport is one that is really entertaining with it being fast paced and physical. I would happily pay to watch this again and I cannot understand why this sport has never taken off in this country. In fact handball is now one of my favourite sports and comes very close a second behind football.

Admission: £50 each
Programme: no Handball ones available
Olympic Stadium @ night
After leaving the arena we paid a visit to the megastore as I was hoping to get a pin badge of the Copper Box and a programme for the handball tournament, but they had none for sale. 

As you can imagine the queues to get back to Stratford International for the Javelin service back to St. Pancras were large, but the staff had everything organised properly. It all ran smoothly and efficiently and we were back @ St. Pancras in plenty of time before our scheduled departure back to Leicester at 0045. 

Before and during the early part of the games there have been plenty of scaremongering and predicted transport chaos, but the reality was very much different. The image that will be portrayed about London in relation to the games itself and the transport is a very positive one that can only enhance the city and country as a whole. A final note should be to the staff at the games who were all well trained, knowledgeable, polite and very friendly.

A day that we as a couple will never forget and we are so glad that we managed to get tickets so something that will never be experienced again.

More photos of the Olympic Park in general can be viewed in the slideshow below:

...and photos of the Copper Box Arena are below:
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